Not Too Little Or Too Late: A Fairly Complete JoJo Primer
by Rachel Stone
It’s your middle school homecoming and you’re looking fly in your flirty-dress-over-bell-bottomed-jeans purchased from Limited Too. Your hair is slick and your mom flat-ironed the crimps on the back of your head because you’re cool like that. The school gym is resplendent with balloons. You’re pretty sure this could be the day ___ leans in to kiss your gloss-lacquered lips. Nascent lust is in the airwaves. JoJo is playing.
JoJo’s first single “Leave (Get Out)” shot to the top of the 2004 Billboard charts and the CD drives of America’s minivans when she was only 13; her eponymous first album went platinum. Two years later, she followed up with “Too Little Too Late,” and a sophomore album called The High Road.
And then she went MIA for a maddening nine years.
In what I had previously assumed was either a D’Angelo hype-building technique or just the Absolute Worst Puberty Ever, JoJo’s absence was caused by legal issues with her record label; Blackground Music and its imprint Da Family Records effectively kept her new music hostage, the artist mostly unable to release anything but mixtapes and YouTube covers until she finagled a contract with Atlantic Records in 2014.
On August 11th, 2015, JoJo’s official Twitter leaked an urban dictionary “definition” of a tringle. When cross-referenced with the “massholian” dialect of JoJo, we learn that our tween queen is going to RELEASE THREE NEW SONGS ON AUGUST 21ST, 2015.
What follows is a Fairly Complete JoJo Primer, or the best way to catch up on every single essential JoJo song you forgot while you were learning how to do your hair without your Chi Flat Iron.
1. Baby It’s You, 2004
The opening shots of the music video are one of the most singularly flawless camera takes I’ve seen since the musical number in the Lizzie McGuire Movie. Frames of bell-bottomed stonewashed jeans and Von Dutch-looking sneakers flash past in a theme park. JoJo, clothed in a cropped hoodie, croons a musical break helpfully annotated as the following:
“We don’t have to go nowhere / It’s not what I want / Baby it’s you,” JoJo, twelve years young at the time, sings, making sure we know she’s not the kind of girl you’d have to take to a fancy dinner or something. She’s just tryna spend TIME WITH YOU in the mysterious world where everyone wears matching Limited Too cropped hoodies and twelve-year-olds can drive fancy cars.
2. Leave (Get Out), 2004
When this song was recorded, JoJo was way too young to be singing about wanting “to be together, always” with anyone, but such is the source of the song’s magic. Her voice is soulful with exquisite range, and when she sings (in her “Boys Stink” tank top!!!) about how her two-timing fuccboi of a boyfriend left the number of his new girl ON HIS PHONE, tween tragedies have never felt so meaningful.
3. Marvin’s Room (Can’t Do Better), 2011
When the leaked reference track of R.I.C.O surfaced online, it became clear that the only person who can rap a Drake track should be Drake, regardless of who penned it. This rule doesn’t apply to JoJo, who not only covers “Marvin’s Room” but also does it one better. “Fuck that new girl that’s been in your bed,” she sings, voice hardened into smooth resolve; “Cuz when you’re in her / I know I’m in your head.” Where Drake’s verse ended with the 4a.m. yearning: “I’m just sayin’, you can do better / tell me have you heard that lately?” JoJo eliminates the uncertainty, letting her former lover know for sure: “Baby I’m the best, so you can’t do better.” No. You can’t do better.
4. Aquamarine: A Fish Out of Water Comedy, 2006
Yes, okay, this isn’t a song, but it’s a film about teenage mermaids featuring JoJo. She’s not excellent, but you can definitely see why she was offered the part of Hannah Montana.
5. Anything, 2006
For really no reason, this song begins with the chorus of MOTHERFUCKING “AFRICA” BY TOTO, which is just so entirely silly that it’s perfect. JoJo’s bridge: “Every time that we rendezvous / I don’t wanna go back home, / and every time that I’m holding you / there ain’t no way to let you go” is just paraphrasing “Africa’s” “It’s gonna take a lot / to drag me away from you” but either because of JoJo’s vocals or the sheer insanity of using this song, the result is flawless. Like Vanessa Carleton’s “1,000 Miles,” I figured this song was a good metric into understanding if this feeling I was feeling was actually love. Would I do “anything for ___, do anything for [him]?” Unequivocally.
6. The Way You Do Me, 2006
This is the best track off of JoJo’s second album (sorry, “Too Little Too Late”); it’s a frenzied departure from bb JoJo, a power-dance song about honest lust reminiscent of “Ring The Alarm”-era Beyoncé. Listening to this song was also probably the first time I realized that, at some point in my life, sex could be a thing I’d want to have.
7. Disaster, 2011
JoJo’s first “comeback track” didn’t fare too well on the charts, and it’s unclear of what the music video plot actually is aside from montage images of JoJo making out with someone on a motorcycle and getting pissed off in front of a microphone. But the Kelly Clarkson-ish power ballad demonstrates that the power of her voice might physically knock over Ariana Grande.
8. Let It Rain, 2006
JoJo gets spiritual on this track, not as religious as JoJo’s “Note To God” or even High Road’s “High Road” but the themes of self-love and absolution meld with the sharp violins in the background, weaving a track perfect for teens discovering their own latent sadnesses.
A slow jam about platonic friendship turned something more, that includes this rap break gold: “Chocolate-covered candy kisses / they keep me reminiscing / all I want is what you’re giving / nothing like your affection.”
A song published on her mixtape that, according to an interview in Complex, was inspired by André 3000 and “what he represents” but is better enjoyed when assumed it is an ode to the six-dollar champagne.
Note: Since nothing qualifies me to write this other than having JoJo’s entire discography on my iTunes, feel free to supplement this primer.
Rachel Stone is the Awl’s summer reporter. Her work has also appeared on the Toast and in the Nassau Weekly.